SOMEONE ELSE'S TRICK
Tyson's finished 28 out of the 80 squares of his grid. The fumes of his small and shoddily ventilated studio are crawling up his nostrils and, he's certain, pluming into his lungs. He begins to feel dizzy. He walks down four flights of metal stairs and out on to the loft's loading dock. He rolls his own, it gets the job done. He's waiting for the day when he coughs up blood and little black bits of lung in khaki gobs of phlegm. That day's a ways off, though. He breathes far easier than a middle-aged man who paints and smokes has any right to. By all rights he should be sequestered to a hospital bed, netted in a web of clear plastic tubes powered by one of those huffing accordions. His lungs are insanely resilient, and he's starting to think that one day, without warning, without so much as a rattle, they'll fall out of him like a rusted muffler.
Tyson smokes and thinks of not much but the photo, then the painting, then the photo, then the painting, making the painting look like the photo, making the photo...too late for that, it's taken...shit...but before he dies, before he has a heart attack or his lungs give out or black tumors come out of nowhere all at once and eat him alive, leaving a steaming soupy mess of entrails, he'll finish the damn picture of Nana's Little Nugget, a decrepit bar in a strip mall with mirrored windows. The type of place you know has wood-paneled walls without ever going inside.
His painting will be another addition to a none-too-thick-but-none-too-slender body of work. All photorealism. All photorealism and nobody cares except other painters who jealously look for mistakes. Some people, nonpainters, see the paintings and are amazed for about five minutes. They see a quaint magic trick involving cards or rings or little blue foam balls. They're entertained but unmoved; they walk on to the pop art, the sculpture garden -- the bigger, splashier thing -- someone else's trick.
A mauve limo pulls up to the dock. Out of it comes squirrelly Dave, the art critic, and what looks like an escort. The closer they get the more indeterminate the gender of Dave's escort becomes. Whatever it is, it's blonde, overly made-up, has muscular arms and is a head taller than Dave; he or she is dressed in a mini white one piece and white go-go boots. Dave, using him/her as a crutch, sees Tyson and smiles.
"Tyler...good, you're just the man I'm looking for."
"Look, I'm a little busy, what do you want?"
It wasn't just the fact that Dave couldn't get his names straight.
Art and Gentrification: Chicago's Pilsen
...I'd arrived at Tyson Reardon's Halsted loft with, perhaps unfairly, high expectations. I'd known Tyson had taken a hermetic and monastic approach to his painting as of late, and found myself wishing it had shown itself in his work.
Granted, Tyson's disregard for social niceties did show itself in the lack of amenities here. His wine tasted like it had been tapped from a foil bag and, hey, it's understandable if you have to go to Hickory Farms at the last minute, so long as you're buying something and not just running off with the sample platter. Minor quibbles, sure, but a little care for such things would make openings like these a little more bearable. It sure wasn't his paintings.
I dub thee faux-toe realism. Tyson favors, as his subjects, bland suburban-white-trash landscapes he has no real connection to. His technique is broad and sloppy, as if he's expecting to be rewarded for the effort. Brushstrokes and other mistakes glare and annoy, like boom mikes dipping into the frame, the hint of a submerged turd floating in eggnog, rendering the intended illusion a joke.Tyson, unfortunately, is an example of the well-meaning arts type who gives nothing back to the community he's assimilating...
Of course, there's no complaint at the time, while he's ravaging your cheese and crackers and drinking himself stupid on your wine. In your presence he's all hugs and flattery for about five minutes, then he wanders off to give his hugs and flattery to some other poor schlub he's trashed in a review. After he taps the reception's bar he leaves, taking all the attractive women in the place with him.
That's the lick -- It's one thing to hold the exalted position of paid asshole with opinion, but to have landed the book contract he'd landed, thus becoming a rock star in the art publishing world, his book jackets blurbed with little snippets like "Deliciously Irreverent" (NY Times) and "May be the sole honest voice among so much bullshit calling itself art" (Village Voice) -- is rage inducing. Even his cover photo pisses everyone off, featuring his smarmy grin and shiny horn-rims under a mop of Sammy Hagar hair. The little polesmoker even trashed the artist who did his cover. He's given a few of Tyson's friends ulcers and, honestly, he has no idea what he's talking about half -- no, at least three quarters of the time.
"I was actually wondering if I might trouble you for the use of your loft for an evening." Tyson began hand- rolling another cigarette and laughed -- the balls on this roiling little shit were un-fucking-believable.
"Is somebody putting you up to this?"
"A dare, is somebody daring you this?"
"Oh. Oh my, you're not bent out of shape about that are you?"
"About what, Dave?"
"You know, some people are flattered by the terrible reviews I give them, I've seen them framed and hung on their walls."
Tyson takes another drag, breathes a smoke ring and watches it dissolve. "You know what, Dave? You're right...it's just a review. Man, I don't care about that. Fuck it, sure."
"Hey man, mi Casa, su Casa."
"Well great, then. Oh, my manners, I'm sorry. Taffy, Tyler, vice versa and so forth...." Dave waves off the formalities and wobbles past Tyson, into the warehouse.
Taffy smells like a bath and body shop. He/she stops, gives Tyson a hungry grin and touches his cheek with a long, possibly diseased finger. It calls him a sweet boy and sashays past him, catching up with Dave. Tyson looks after them, sees the loose dirty-blonde curls hanging on the back of Dave's head and thinks better you than me, better you than me, oh man, so much better you than me. He stamps out his cigarette, heads back to his loft and the scene that awaits him.
Dave is collapsed on the cot Tyson keeps for pulling all-nighters on a project. Taffy is all arms, legs, and lips over Dave's barely conscious body. Tyson grabs his camera off of his mini- fridge and a beer. He hovers around the pair, swigging and snapping. Dave is drooling and noncognizant, barely knows he's being photographed. Taffy's fully aware of what's going on and mugs away.
While clicking away, Tyson begins to appreciate the art of what Taffy does. Yeah, sure, she was a guy, but still -- high cheekbones, piercing green eyes, smooth skin, leggy as a spider -- an obvious investment of care and craft marked her work.
And Dave -- the guy's so sloppy and half-assed. Shit. No-assed. He'd never had any problem with real women and that was just fucking baffling. Tyson hadn't had any action himself since his wife left him almost a year ago because he worked all the time -- on these paintings that Dave would verbally piss on -- and he just forgot how to be sociable. Fuck if the prospect of a Taffy started looking not so bad. At least better than nothing.
Taffy gets Dave's pants and peppermint-striped boxers down only to find him small and grimaces. Tyson gets a close-up of Dave's flaccid, sleeping midget. Taffy shakes her head and says, "Put the camera down for awhile." Tyson obliges, figuring what the hell? One for the book.
An hour later Taffy and Tyson drink a couple beers in silence. Taffy looks at Dave, drooling and supine on Tyson's cot, and shakes her head.
"That is one sorry little bitch."
"You think you could help me get a cab, umm...Taylor?"
Tyson pulls a crumpled wad of bills out of the pockets around Dave's ankles. Dave stirs but doesn't awaken. He extracts a couple of hundreds and hands them to Taffy.
"Damn. Thank you, sir, you are too kind."
"Oh no," Tyson grins, "thank you."
Tyson walks Taffy out. A cab is waiting. Before leaving she hands him a card that reads TAFFY POOLE, EXOTIC ENTERTAINMENT. Tyson pockets it, watches the cab turn a corner and heads back inside. He pulls Dave's pants up and goes back to work on his painting.
A few hours later Dave wakes up. "Aaagh fuck," he growls. "Fuck, I feel like hell." He sits up, finds his glasses, fumbles them on and sees Tyson.
"Fuck are you doing here?"
"This is my studio."
"Oh. Oh yeah. Jesus, I'm hungover."
"Hair of the dog, man. My fridge in the corner there. Trab me one too."
Dave opens the beers and hands Tyson one.
"Looks like you guys got wild last night."
"You and that girl. Tammy?"
"Oh...OH! Yeah," Dave chuckled. "Fuck me, I don't even remember."
"She left bowlegged right as I got here, said you were an animal."
"Hmm, I guess that's a compliment. She's a professional."
"You don't say."
"Yeah, I got a huge advance for my book, figured I might do myself right. These art criticism groupies just aren't cutting it for me anymore."
"I imagine not."
"Thanks for letting us crash here."
"Not a problem."
"I mean, I know I can be harsh in print and stuff."
"Think nothing of it, it's all good."
Dave watches as Tyson applies a tiny neon white line to a dark background. He sees a couple of stray red drips and a random smear.
"You know, you have a couple of drips and stuff there..."
"Thanks Dave, I'll get right on it."
"You have anything coming up soon?"
"I'll let you know."
"I'll have to rip you to shreds, you know that."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
"So, you won't have any hard feelings, then?"
"I never do."
Tyson watches Dave leave, continues his painting. When he's finished with this one he has another, maybe a couple, maybe a triptych he's anxious to get started on.
This one, however, he'll finish first, if only because he's started it. He'll finish it even though nobody cares if he does or he doesn't. He'll finish it because he's finished paintings before, because he's sold paintings he's finished. He'll finish it not because he necessarily wants to, but because he can.
And Dave can write whatever shit he wants. Anybody can say anything and it doesn't matter.
After all, Tyson realizes, I'm a man, not a camera. Yeah, I'm a man not a camera I'm a man not a camera… There'll be brushstrokes and mistakes and that shit doesn't matter because I'm a man not a camera I'm a man not a camera...carefully craft detail upon detail upon detail of detail of detail but I'm a man not a camera a man not a camera a man not a camera a man not a…
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